Mary Jane Goodwin Austin was born on February 25, 1831, almost two hundred years ago. And yet there have been times in my research when she felt like a contemporary. Her letters are warm, friendly, and often quite personal. She obviously felt comfortable expressing herself in writing. Although I haven’t recently discovered any more letters, I continue to find new stories or articles that she published all the time. A more in-depth biography of Austin (in case you missed it!) is here. I’ve been very quiet on this blog lately, but I have been working! I’ve got another article
As I’m now looking for publishers, I’ve spent a lot of time reviewing currently available books on Pilgrim history. As I’ve posted before, there are plenty of new books forthcoming, largely inspired by the 2020 celebrations. Rebecca Fraser’s The Mayflower: The Families, the Voyage, and the Founding of America (available November 7) is a narrative history of the lives of two members of the Winslow family, covering their journey on the Mayflower to their participation in King Philip’s War more than fifty years later. She focuses more on the day-to-day life of Pilgrims in the seventeenth century, and I think such context
Austin’s 1889 novel, Standish of Standish, is definitely her most popular work, but it’s also an incredibly influential novel because of its impact on American culture. It’s not a coincidence that the Pilgrims began to be associated with the “first” Thanksgiving only after her book was published (but more on that in another post). Nor is it a coincidence that stories about America’s past were popular at that time; after all, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886 and the Pledge of Allegiance was written and promoted in 1887. In 1910, more than 30 states had laws requiring Americanization
Two things hooked me on Jane Goodwin Austin. First, she created the story of the first Thanksgiving. Second, she was friends with Louisa May Alcott. As a little girl, I loved to read old books. I had all the early Nancy Drews, Bobbsey Twins, and the Little House series, as well as anything I could acquire by LM Montgomery. And of course, I read a lot of Alcott’s novels. In fact, I read Little Women every winter as a sort of ritual. My trip to Concord in the mid-1980s solidified my passion. Once I actually saw New England and visited
As the 400-year celebration of the Pilgrim landing in Plymouth approaches, plenty of groups and individuals are already preparing, as this article illustrates. It looks like Dr. Turner, a historian of religion at George Mason, will be focusing his book more on the religious and historical aspects of the Pilgrim story. I’m in good company, as expected, but that also means the pressure is on. I have to admit I’m a little jealous, too; Turner has been spending the summer touring Pilgrim sites in England and in Massachusetts! Most of my research has been conducted at my desk or on my couch.
Today is the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, so it seems like a good time for a post distinguishing the English Jane Austen with the American Jane Goodwin Austin. “It is a truth universally acknowledged” that every article about Jane Austen has to include that phrase somewhere (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist. I was trying to come up with Austin Power jokes, though, so it could have been worse). The English Jane Austen was born in 1775 and published some of the best-known and most critically acclaimed novels in all of literature. Pride and Prejudice (1813) is